State of the arts

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Students paint during a contest in Hanoi. Art education does not get due attention, an expert says.

Vietnamese education has failed to improve the ability of youth to enjoy and engage in the arts, former rector of the National University of Art Education, Trieu Khac Le, tells Vietweek.

Vietweek: Art education is a part of primary and secondary school education in Vietnam, but students still have very little knowledge about it. Why?

Trieu Khac Le: Art was not taught originally in schools. It was only in the 1990s that the Ministry of Education and Training required that nine subjects, including music and fine arts, are compulsorily taught in primary schools, and later, in secondary schools. At that time, schools faced a shortage of art teachers. Earlier, the Central Pedagogy College of Music and Fine Arts, which now is the National University of Art Education, was the sole establishment training music and fine arts teachers for primary and secondary schools. However, the university could not train enough teachers to meet the demand.

If each primary and secondary school needs a music teacher and a fine arts teacher, the demand for the teachers nationwide reaches hundreds of even thousands, so many universities and colleges have since begun training art teachers.

There are some teachers' schools with just five to seven art teachers that have opened classes to train art students.

The training expansion helped primary and secondary schools have enough art teachers, but their quality has not been very good. Teachers do not master their specialties. Obviously, students cannot achieve excellence then.

Music and fine arts teachers in these schools have to do many other things besides teaching the arts.

Trieu Khac Le,
former rector of the National University of Art Education

Moreover, a class in our country has 45 students, typically, much higher than around 20 in other countries. Every week, students get one lesson in music or fine arts, which lasts for about 30 minutes in primary schools and 45 minutes in secondary schools. Thus, the time is not enough to teach the subjects well. Most schools do not have quality equipment and materials for the teaching either.

There is yet another aspect. Music and fine arts teachers are not treated on par with their peers, as their subjects are not considered important. These have negative psychological impacts on teachers.

Therefore, schools need to increase investment in teaching these subjects and improve the quality of teachers.

Music and fine arts are highly creative, but teachers apparently instruct students to paint or learn in a mechanical manner under textbook instructions. What do you think about it?

They are compulsory subjects and taught under a common syllabus and there are both good and bad learners. Textbooks compiled by the Ministry of Education and Training may be easy for students in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to follow, but difficult for those in mountainous areas, who cannot even afford crayons.

Teachers should be flexible in their teaching. The teaching method, aesthetic capacity and assessment capability of teachers are very important.

I used to teach fine arts on a trial basis at Hanoi's Tan Trieu Primary School, and the students were very good. Students of the school won more than half of the prizes in a painting contest for children in the city.

There are many shortcomings in art workbooks as well that affect the quality of teaching. Official textbooks are written by a council appointed by the education ministry and their quality is somewhat assured. However, there are so many publishing houses releasing art workbooks that are arbitrarily chosen by different schools, making it difficult to ensure quality.

Are parents paying due attention to these subjects?

Excluding some well-off families in big cities, or those who want their children to work in the arts sector in the future, nobody pays these subjects any attention. They are interested in fundamental subjects like math and Vietnamese language that are assessed via examinations. Meanwhile, art subjects just get teachers' comments. Other countries also have teachers' comments as the assessment for arts subjects, but in our country, subjects that do not have examinations are deemed unimportant.

It has been said that the number of students studying arts is increasing, but training quality is decreasing. Is this correct?

Right. Art teachers for primary and secondary schools have been trained in a rigid manner for three years. Under regulations of the Ministry of Education and Training, teachers who do not teach mainstream disciplines like math, science and language are required to acquire training in at least two subjects like music and civics, for instance, or both music and fine arts.

With 700-800 lessons given at universities over three years, the students cannot master the subject to become good teachers in the future.

When I train teachers in provinces, I see their standard is not very high, and that they are very conservative. Their aesthetic capacity has not been improved regularly.

Right now, art is taught in primary and secondary schools. Is this enough?

It is not. In fact, I have proposed that it should be taught in high schools. In other countries, art is also taught as optional subject in high schools. We also did it, but were not successful. Students choose math, literature and foreign languages. Nobody chooses art.

In addition to studying in schools, youth study aesthetics in the society at large. This even has more impact than school education where the lesson is taught just once a week.

What should we do to improve the quality of art education?

We have to understand art education in schools in a more comprehensive manner. The Education Law mentions morals, intelligence, physical strength, and aesthetics, but aesthetics does not get due attention. Art education can help people understand and appreciate life more comprehensively and reduce negative tendencies.

Many developed countries like Japan, France and England pay due attention to art education.

We also need to improve the qualification of teachers. More than half of the students from art teaching universities do not participate in any art activity, apart from teaching at schools.

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